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A Conversation with Dr. Leo Flanagan: Our Model is Here!

As an important reminder, these outcomes are not intended to be generalizable in any way. They are specific to Penn State students who participated in the survey and represent opportunities for improvement interventions for those participating campuses only.

To get some background on the participating campuses and the overall project, please see this posting written at the start of the project.

Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with Dr. Leo Flanagan, Co-Managing Partner at the Center for Resilience Advisory (CFRA) to go over the results of the survey and the derived model.  Here is a summary of the findings:

  1. There were no statistically significant differences in the survey results across the campuses. There were some differences across ethnicity groups, but the samples were too small to work into the model.
  2. Overall, our scores were lower than those in corporate environments by half to a full point across all dimensions. Since we are the first higher-ed group to take the survey, we will have to wait for other college results to make comparisons. Right now, we are the benchmark!
  3. Looking at the survey results and taking into account what we’ve learned from other projects involving growth of internal attributes, helping students become stronger at critical reflection would be an important aspect to consider in future work with students. We have found in multiple projects at York that critical reflection plays a key role in growth and change. Self-reflection was one of the lowest scores in the resilience survey.
  4. The derived predictive model looks at the ten resilience factors measured in the CFRA survey (The Resilience Profile©) and their impact on each of the three areas measuring burnout from the Maslach Burnout Inventory – Student Version. Six resilience factors were found to have very strong correlations with low burnout and therefore could become the areas of focus in future interventions. From the CFRA report, “These were:
    • Balanced Goal Setting
    • Cultivating Support (building empathy)
    • Engaging Others In A Higher Purpose
    • Focus
    • Pragmatic Optimism
    • Grit
    With the exception of Grit, each of these factors can be reliably increased in undergraduates to improve their resilience enabling them to succeed while thriving.”
  5. Perhaps most surprising (or not) were the high scores on cynicism. Dr. Flanagan urged caution in this area as cynicism can act as a contagion spreading throughout communities, and as such, would be an important aspect to address early on.  As levels of cynicism rise, levels of emotional exhaustion also increase which can impact a sense of agency and accomplishment. These factors significantly contribute to burnout. Engaging students in finding  a sense of purpose and meaning as well as developing a sense of self-efficacy and agency in their own lives can be an important antidote to cynicism.
  6. Mindfulness practice can help students to develop a sense of inner calm and focus. These practices can easily be folded into classroom routines with brief focused breathing or listening activities to begin the class. See the other sections of this website for practical strategies in each area.

In sum, these are the key suggestions for participants in the project: 1) addressing cynicism by building a sense of purpose within empathetic and caring communities (student-derived!), 2) helping students to achieve balance, focus, and perseverance in the pursuit of their goals, and 3) giving them tools to leverage optimistic mindsets in the midst of challenges. These are the main messages of this project and key to achieving these goals is building the skill of critical self-reflection through which meaningful change can take place.

In general from extant research from Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley, Stanford, and CFRA, students become more resilient by being able to work through the challenges that they face. They are more likely to be able work through those challenges when they avoid burnout (previous paragraph), build positive inner resources, develop mindsets that encourage self-efficacy, growth mindset, and internal locus of control, and have strategies at hand to employ when difficulties arise. 

Again, our sincere thanks go out to Dr. Flanagan and everyone at CFRA for their  support and expertise throughout the project! It is my hope that the good work begun at the campuses can now continue in a more focused way based on these outcomes!


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